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Serbia on a roll with gold medal in water polo

USA Wins Gold Medal in Women's Water Polo

Aug 20 (Reuters) - Serbia's world champion men's water polo team defeated arch rivals Croatia 11-7 to win their first Olympic gold medal in the sport and dethrone the title holders on Saturday.

The Serbian victory came as the country's athletes round out an impressive Games in Rio and also prepare to compete for gold in women's volleyball and men's basketball.

In a water polo final marked by rough and aggressive play in front of both goals, Serbia showed superior firepower and defense.

SEE MORE: Everything you need to know about the Rio Olympics

Serbia's Dusan Mandic scored four times, while goalkeeper Branislav Mitrovic's impressive blocks kept Croatia out. Two goals came from Filip Filipovic, age 29 and a veteran of two past Serbian Olympic teams which each won bronze. Filipovic was elected the most valuable player of the tournament.

A Serbia team that has swept up world and regional titles since 2012 finally proved its dominance on the most prestigious stage. Filipovic said his team, known for both stellar defense and great shooting, was probably the best ever assembled in the sport.

"Let's say we want this from the whole beginning of our careers. We trained so hard, and so much we suffered," he told reporters.

Water polo is among the most popular sports in the countries of the former Yugoslavia, and before the Olympics Serbia coach Dejan Savic had said the team was under tremendous pressure to bring home the gold, telling reporters "We have won everything else, now we want this."

SEE ALSO: South Africa's Semenya takes 800-meter gold​​​​​​

But early in the 12-team tournament, it looked like the unthinkable could happen to Serbia, which ran the risk of failing to pass into the knock-out rounds. The team's jittery performances began with two draws and a loss.

Serbia steadied their play in the later rounds with five straight wins on their way to the title against Croatia, which had won a gold medal in London.

Sporting rivalries have always been fierce between Serbia and Croatia, neighboring countries that fought a war against each other in the 1990s.

Water polo matches in the region can pack stadiums with up to 25,000 fans, as happened in Belgrade at the European championships earlier this year, where Serbia won.

SERBIAN SUCCESS

With a relatively small population of less than 8 million, Serbia has had outsized success at the Rio Games.

After its men won the water polo, Serbia's women's volleyball will take on China in the gold medal match later on Saturday, following their upset of the United States.

Serbia has already captured bronze in women's basketball, defeating France. Its men's basketball team take tournament favorites the United States in Sunday's gold medal match.

Earlier on Saturday in the bronze medal men's water polo match, Italy beat Montenegro by 12-10.

(Reporting by Joshua Schneyer; editing by Ken Ferris and Meredith Mazzilli)

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See the best photos from Rio:

30 PHOTOS
Best photos from the 2016 summer Olympics
See Gallery
Best photos from the 2016 summer Olympics
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 07: Simone Biles of the United States competes on the balance beam during Women's qualification for Artistic Gymnastics on Day 2 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Rio Olympic Arena on August 7, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 07: Jonas Valanciunas of Lithuania shoots over Marcus Vinicius Marquinhos of Brazil during a Men's preliminary round basketball game between Brazil and Lithuania on Day 2 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Carioca Arena 1 on August 7, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Pool/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 07: Segun Toriola of Nigeria plays a Men's Singles second round match against Koki Niwa of Japan on Day 2 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Riocentro - Pavilion 3 on August 7, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 06: Bret Bonanni #10 of United States shoots the ball against Croatia during the Men's Water Polo Preliminary Round - Group B match between the United States of America and Croatia at the Maria Lenk Aquatics Centre on August 6, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 07: Laura Giombini of Italy (R) reacts during the Women's Beach Volleyball preliminary round Pool D match against Jamie Lynn Broder and Kristina Valjas of Canada on Day 2 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Beach Volleyball Arena on August 7, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 07: Robert Gardos of Austria plays a Men's Singles second round match against Ovidiu Ionescu of Romania on Day 2 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Riocentro - Pavilion 3 on August 7, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 09: Michael Phelps (L) of the United States leads Chad le Clos of South Africa in the Men's 200m Butterfly Final on Day 4 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium on August 9, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Adam Pretty/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 07: Shu-Ching Hsu of Chinese Taipei competes during the Women's 53kg Group A weightlifting contest on Day 2 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Riocentro - Pavilion 2 on August 7, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
2016 Rio Olympics - Beach Volleyball - Women's Preliminary - Beach Volleyball Arena - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - 07/08/2016. Doaa Elghobashy (EGY) of Egypt and Kira Walkenhorst (GER) of Germany compete. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 08: Lilly King of the United States celebrates winning gold in the Women's 100m Breaststroke Final on Day 3 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium on August 8, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 09: Simone Biles of the United States competes on the balance beam during the Artistic Gymnastics Women's Team Final on Day 4 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Rio Olympic Arena on August 9, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 09: Ruolin Chen and Huixia Liu of China compete in the Women's Diving Synchronised 10m Platform Final on Day 4 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Maria Lenk Aquatics Centre on August 9, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 10: Ning Ding of China in action during the Womens Table Tennis Singles Final match against Li Xiaoxia of China at Rio Centro onn August 10, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 10: Axel Augis of France competes on the horizontal bar during the Men's Individual All-Around final on Day 5 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Rio Olympic Arena on August 10, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 14: Linda Cerruti and Costanza Ferro of Italy compete in the Women's Duets Synchronised Swimming Free Routine Preliminary Round on Day 9 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Maria Lenk Aquatics Centre on August 14, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 13: Jennifer Oeser of Germany competes in the Women's Heptathlon Long Jump on Day 8 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on August 13, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 12: Matthew Glaetzer of Australia competes in the Men's Sprint Qualifying on Day 7 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Rio Olympic Velodrome on August 12, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 14: Usain Bolt of Jamaica competes in the Men's 100 meter semifinal on Day 9 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on August 14, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 12: An RS-X athlete is seen on the way back to the marina after the conclusion of racing on Day 7 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Marina da Gloria on August 12, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 17: Silver medalist Nia Ali (L) and gold medalist Brianna Rollins of the United States celebrate after the Women's 100m Hurdles Final on Day 12 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on August 17, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 20: Russia compete during the ribbon rotation 1 in the group all-round qualification round at the at Rio Olympic Arena on August 20, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 19: The riders compete during the Men's semi final 2 on day 14 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic BMX Centre on August 19, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 19: Yauheni Karaliou of Belarus competes during the Diving Men's 10m Platform Preliminary on Day 14 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Maria Lenk Aquatics Centre on August 19, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 20: Neymar of Brazil celebrates scoring the winning penalty in the penalty shoot out during the Men's Football Final between Brazil and Germany at the Maracana Stadium on Day 15 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games on August 20, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 11: (EDITORS NOTE: Multiple exposures were combined in camera to produce this image.) Simone Biles of the United States competes on the balance beam during the Women's Individual All Around Final on Day 6 of the 2016 Rio Olympics at Rio Olympic Arena on August 11, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 17: (L-R) Bronze medalist Kristi Castlin, gold medalist Brianna Rollins and silver medalist Nia Ali of the United States celebrate with American flags after the Women's 100m Hurdles Final on Day 12 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on August 17, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 10: Kristin Armstrong hugs her son Lucas Armstrong Savola, 5, after she won the gold medal in the women's cycling road individual time trial at Rio 2016 on Wednesday, August 10, 2016. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 13: Team Great Britain competes in the Women's Team Pursuit first round on Day 8 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Rio Olympic Velodrome on August 13, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 15: Shaunae Miller of the Bahamas dives over the finish line to win the gold medal in the Women's 400m Final on Day 10 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Stadium on August 15, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)
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